Puerto Princesa is a gateway to some really great areas in Palawan that require longer land travel. We planned to spend some time in El Nido and allotted most of our travel money for this. But since the city itself is a great destination, we decided to spend a couple of days there before and after El Nido with a more modest budget.
On our first full day there, we decided to rent a motorcycle to explore the city’s most popular tourist spots. If you can drive a bicycle or motorcycle, you can save costs on the standard city tour and spend more time exploring the places you want without being tied to a tour group. During our visit, motorcycle rentals cost PHP500/for 24 hours use from Alex Motorcycle Rental(Rizal Ave.) We drove around the main city, weaving through the busy side streets and alleys, passing by the port, Baywalk and at Kamarikutan Café for a quick look around.
A trip to Puerto Princesa would not be complete (especially for first-timers) without dining in either Badjao Seafront Restaurant or Ka Lui’s. However, if you’re on a budget, you can still find some cheap places to eat like Vietnamese-style eateries that serve chaolong or rice noodles. Upon the recommendation of a tricycle driver, we stopped at Bona’s Chaolong House, a small eatery on Manalo Extension. We both ordered bowls of chaolong (P40 for regular, P45 for special), and French bread, which comes in all sorts of fillings from cheese, tuna, chicken, longganisa and pork (P25/piece).
After the meal, we made our way on motorbike to the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center (Crocodile Farm), roughly 45 minutes away from the city. We paid the entrance fee of PHP40/person, but skipped the guided tour opting to go around the crocodile farm on our own. At the entrance, there’s a skeleton of the largest crocodile that died in captivity, which measures roughly about 17 feet (5 meters) or half the size of a basketball court. In contrast, “Lolong”, the giant saltwater crocodile caught in Agusan measures 21 feet (6.4 meters).
The hatchling site brings visitors up close to crocodiles of various sizes. Of course, we stopped for the obligatory photo op with a baby crocodile. The first time I went to Puerto Princesa years ago this used to be free, but during our visit they charged P40 per person. We also walked around the mini-zoo and nature park which houses some species endemic to Palawan.
Then, we made our way again on motorbike to the Iwahig Penal Colony, a unique prison where inmates roam freely and live with their families. The long dirt road that passed through rice fields dotted with egrets grazing among the carabaos was quite scenic.
There’s no entrance fee at the Iwahig Penal Colony, the only prison in the country that has no bars and barriers to keep prisoners in. Prisoners in this low security work farm are free to choose vocational activities including farming, fishing, carpentry and handicraft-making. It was interesting walking around the compound and visiting some of the buildings, including a really dilapidated structure that used to be a recreation hall. We had a nice chat with one of the inmates managing a sari-sari store within the compound over some refreshments.
After resting a bit in our hotel back in the city proper, we ended the day with a few early drinks at Katabom Resto Bar, which was offering a “Happy Hour” special from 5:00 – 7:00 pm, with a live reggae band playing. Kinabuch’s Bar & Grill, which I originally wanted to eat in (to try tamilok) was full (and tamilok was out of stock), so we headed to Bilao at Palayok instead for a satisfying meal of steamed crabs and baked scallops.
Overall, it was a very laid-back DIY city tour with lots of time for photo ops. There were a lot of other places covered in the usual city tour that we decided to skip like Mitra’s Ranch and Baker’s Hill in Sta. Monica Heights (where you can buy specialty bread and souvenir items).
I’d say this option is ideal for 2 people in terms of costs. If you can’t drive a motorcycle or are in a bigger group (3-4 pax), you can still get around the main city proper very easily by jeep or regular trike, then just hire a tricycle for the afternoon to take you to the sites (like the Crocodile Farm and Baker’s Hill) which are a bit further away. Another good place to visit in Puerto Princesa is Viet Ville Restaurant, if you want really big servings of chao long.
If you have time to spare, I recommend Badjao Seafront Restaurant. Great views of mangrove trees there!